President Trump joined two Republican senators on Wednesday to champion legislation overhauling legal immigration in America, calling for a merit-based system that would significantly cut admissions over the next decade.
Speaking at the White House, the president called it “the most significant reform to our immigration system in a half century.”
“As a candidate, I campaigned on creating a merit-based immigration system that protects U.S. workers and taxpayers, and that is why we are here today,” Trump said.
He was joined by Georgia Sen. David Perdue and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, the Republicans who first introduced the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy, or the RAISE Act, in February. They have said the legislation aims to reduce the number of green cards issued in half from 1 million to 500,000 a year.
Trump, Perdue and Cotton argued on Tuesday that low-skilled and unskilled immigration into the United States has depressed wages.
According to a fact sheet released to reporters, the new system would favor immigrants who are educated, speak English and have high-paying job offers. It would also reduce low-skilled and unskilled labor immigration.
Trump said new immigrants must be able to “financially support themselves and their families.”
“The RAISE Act prevents new migrants and new immigrants from collecting welfare and protects U.S. workers from being displaced,” the president said. “And that’s a very big thing, they’re not going to come in and just immediately go and collect welfare.”
The bill would prioritize immediate family members of United States residents, including spouses and young children. But it would end prioritization for extended family members and adult children of residents.
The legislation also eliminates the Diversity Visa lottery system and limits permanent resident status for refugees to 50,000 a year.
Trump lamented how the country has “record numbers of green cards to low-wage immigrants.” The White House said most of the 1 million immigrants who are accepted into the United States for legal permanent residency every year are low or unskilled workers.
Among the hardest hit by this, the president said, are minority workers, who he said are “competing for jobs against brand new arrivals.”
“It has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers,” he said.
The administration also said 50 percent of immigrant households receive welfare benefits, as opposed to 30 percent of native households in the country.
Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a hallmark of his administration and has tried to slash federal grants for cities that refuse to comply with federal efforts to detain and deport those living in the country illegally.
His involvement will put him at the center of efforts to make changes to the legal immigration system.
Trump's appearance was aimed at bringing attention to the bill, which has been largely ignored in the Senate, with no other lawmaker signing on as a co-sponsor. GOP leaders have showed no inclination to vote on immigration this year.
Some immigrant advocates have criticized the proposal, saying that slashing legal immigration would hurt industries like agriculture and harm the economy.
"Our system is broken, but the response should be to modernize it, not take a sledgehammer to it," said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of New American Economy, a group of business leaders, mayors and others backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that advocates for comprehensive immigration reform.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.